This article on the new MaGregor MT86 irons needs to start with a mea culpa.
In fact, it needs a mea maxima culpa.
In an old History’s Mysteries article on the life and death of MacGregor, I went all Monty Python on MacGregor and dubbed it, ahem, a dead parrot.
That didn’t age very well.
The legendary MacGregor brand is back and is being reintroduced with an iron that won’t just wake up the echoes of back nine roars at Augusta. It might just find its way into your bag.
The Return of the Greatest Name in Golf
You don’t have to be a history buff to know about MacGregor. It was one of the two original companies (the other was Spalding) to manufacture golf clubs in the U.S. Its long and illustrious history dates back to 1897 and includes names like Tommy Armour, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf, Johnny Miller—and a total of 59 majors.
The sand ran out of MacGregor’s hourglass in 2010. The self-proclaimed “Greatest Name in Golf” sold what little it had left – essentially its intellectual property – to Golfsmith for less than $2 million. Six years later, Golfsmith went under, taking MacGregor down with it. DICK’S bought Golfsmith’s remaining assets out of bankruptcy, and that bargain basement pickup netted DICK’S all of Golfsmith’s inventory along with house brands Lynx, MacGregor, Ram, Zebra and TearDrop. DICK’S sold Lynx and shelved the rest.
For all intents and purposes, those four brands were indeed dead parrots.
That’s when Simon Millington entered the picture.
“I love the great brands and it’s probably just the romantic in me,” says Millington, an Englishman now living outside Las Vegas. “So to have the opportunity to get those brands, I feel a bit like a custodian of those brands. You’ve got to do something good with it.”
Millington’s company, Golf Brands, Inc., purchased the Ram, Zebra and Teardrop names from DICK’S in 2019 and bought MacGregor in 2020.
Owning old brand names is one thing. Doing something with those names and creating golf clubs that someone—anyone—would actually care about is quite another. To do that, Millington needed high-level help.
And that’s exactly what he got.
Who You Gonna Call?
Austie Rollinson has a serious resume in golf. Today, he’s the Senior Director of Putter R&D at Acushnet/Titleist. And from 1992 until 2020, he earned a reputation as one of the industry’s most influential club designers at Callaway. Rollinson spent 15 years as chief designer for Odyssey, with innovations such as White Hot, Stroke Lab, Triple Track and the iconic 2-Ball to his credit.
He also ran Callaway’s Design Studio and was responsible for iterations of the Great Big Bertha, the X-16 and X-18 irons, the Steelhead woods and irons and several Callaway-era Ben Hogan forgings.
I first met Rollinson on the driving range at Pinehurst just over a year ago. He glanced at the nearly 20-year-old Hogan Apex FTX irons in my bag and nonchalantly remarked, “Oh, I designed those.” My jaw dropped. I shouldn’t have been surprised, I guess. After all, Rollinson holds more than 300 golf club patents and his designs are responsible for more than $5 billion in club sales.
But after Callaway and before Acushnet, Rollinson spent 18 months as a consultant for Millington. The new MacGregor MT86 irons are his work.
“His knowledge and experience were fantastic,” says Millington. “He was a gentleman to work with and was first class in everything he did.”
Millington’s golf background is in retail and in golf course management. So when samples would come from the factories in Asia, he’d react as any salesman would. “I’d go, ‘Oh, these look fantastic.’ But Austie would say, ‘Yeah, the MOI’s not right and we need them to redistribute the weight.’ His level of attention to detail was amazing.”
MacGregor MT86 Irons: Decidedly Retro
The new MacGregor MT86 irons are a throwback to the brand’s Golden Age. The signature diamond-shaped muscle is a homage to the original 1950 MT irons designed by Toney Penna. Those irons were revolutionary, featuring a shallow face, a relatively thick topline and a low center of gravity. That allowed Penna to strengthen the lofts and they flew like crazy.
The new MT86 irons won’t qualify as revolutionary but there’s more to them than just the name and logo.
“It’s a nod to the heritage,” says Millington. “It’s a high-tech club that’s as good as anything out there. But when you look at it, you know the DNA of it. You know it’s a MacGregor.”
The only things missing are the MacGregor script on the sole and the diamonds framing the score lines on the face. You can’t have everything, I guess.
The MT86 Pro will be included in MyGolfSpy’s player’s iron test while the larger MT86 OS will be in the player’s distance category. Both irons are hollow-bodied with a proprietary polymer filling for sound and feel. There’s an internal co-forged tungsten weighting system to push the CG low and deep for a higher launch.
The iron itself says “forged” but the face is two-millimeter-thin MS300 steel. MS300 is a high-grade maraging steel often used in metalwoods. Its high-tensile strength means it can be made very thin while staying highly flexible.
As you can guess, the OS version features a slightly larger face, slightly more offset and slightly stronger lofts compared to the Pro. The Pro is more compact with a slightly narrower topline. Neither iron’s topline qualifies as a butter knife, however. But then again, the original 1950 MT topline didn’t, either.
The OS, obviously, will be the more forgiving of the two.
The Welsh Connection
The new MacGregor MT86 irons premiered on the MacGregor website during the PGA Show. In the meantime, they’ve found their way into a major winner’s bag.
“I’m very lucky to have a great relationship with Ian Woosnam,” says Millington of the Welshman, former world No. 1, 1991 Masters champion and World Golf Hall of Famer. “I showed them to him last summer and he said, ‘Send me a set, send me a set.’ So I did and he’s telling me he’s hitting them 10 to 12 yards farther than what he had been playing. Then I showed him the OS set and he said, ‘I want to try that. I’m 64 and need some help.’ And they went in the bag straight away.”
Woosnam caused a bit of a ruckus on Twitter a few weeks ago when he posted a picture of his new MacGregors.
“That was unprompted. I didn’t know anything about it,” says Millington. “It’s up to something like 230,000 views.”
There in the bag pic.twitter.com/zVHTjYcbOr
— Ian Woosnam (@IWoosnam) January 14, 2023
Should You Care About the “New” MacGregor?
It’s easy to say no to that question. We golfers are cynical creatures, after all. I mean, if you strip away the history, the heritage and the memories, it’s just an old logo on a club that’ll soon get lost in the crowd, right? For the armchair cynic, the new MacGregor seems like just another nostalgia grab offering nothing of consequence. However, if Millington was just in this for nostalgia, finding an open model and slapping the MacGregor logo on it would have been a hell of a lot simpler and less expensive.
But that’s not what happened with the MT86. Rollinson’s original design places it in a slightly different arena.
“If we’d have come out and done this badly, we’d have very quickly been found out,” Millington tells MyGolfSpy. “People would have come up and gone, ‘Uhhhh, it’s just another old brand,’ as opposed to, ‘Oh, this is really nice.’”
And that, in fact, is what Millington has come up with: an iron that looks really nice. We’ll find out soon enough how well they perform in this year’s Most Wanted testing. And say what you will about Golf Digest’s Hot List but the new MacGregors did earn a silver this year without Millington spending a dime on ads.
That’s gotta be worth something.
MacGregor MT86: Final Thoughts, Specs and Price
Retro seems to be a thing in 2023. Wilson brought back Dynapower and we also saw the return of Snake Eyes and PowerBilt branded clubs at the PGA Show to join Millington’s MacGregor-Zebra-Ram revival. Retro may be cool but performance is what counts—as does marketplace mindshare.
And marketplace mindshare is the hard part. Millington’s footprint is small and for the revival to have legs, there has to be more to it than just the name and logo.
“It’s a head start,” he says. “But we still have to do it well and do it right.”
The MT86 irons are the stars of the MacGregor lineup. The rest of the offering features packaged sets and intro-level clubs at very modest prices, something Millington says is important for the industry.
“We need people to start playing golf without spending $3,000 on a set of clubs,” he explains. “I’m unashamed and happy to be selling a lot of packaged sets. We had Austie help with those as well. We believe we have the best packaged sets on the market at those prices.”
The new MT86 irons (the “86” is a nod to Jack’s Masters victory that year) are available on the MacGregor website (Millington says an exclusive with a major U.S. retailer will be announced soon). Both the Pro and the OS will run $899.99 for a seven-piece set (4-PW) in steel and $999.99 in graphite.
The standard shaft is the KBS Tour in steel and the UST Recoil 660/680 in graphite. The clubs are assembled at the Golf Brands, Inc. headquarters in Henderson, Nevada.
For more information, visit the MacGregor website.
And I gotta say: It feels really good to be able to write that sentence.